Writerly resolutions for 2023

Spring crocus cr Judy DarleyI publish a version of this post almost every year, but I find it always fills me with hope and determination. As we edge into the greyest month of the year, this feels like the ideal time to take stock and see what’s working or not working in your creative life.

But this I mean not necessarily whether you’re creating and selling more, but, rather, whether the moments you can find to write, paint or whatever creative forms you choose continue to satisfy you, and whether you feel you’re making progress, whatever that may mean to you.

Before continuing, I must confess, I rarely make new year’s resolutions as such. To me, they seem at best like a form of procrastination (‘oh, I’ll start doing that in Jan’), at worst a way of setting yourself up to fail. But it is a good time to look at how your life is going and see if there’s anything you need to change to stay on or get back on track.

It’s also a fab way to lay the foundations for a new habit that will pay dividends in years to come. Here are five that have served me well in the past.

1. Write whenever you can find the time

In 2012 I set myself the challenge of writing at least one short story every month, which is something I did without fail every month until 2017, by which time the habit was well and truly entrenched. I found it a great way to keep those creative muscles taut and ready for action.

But it was also a demand I couldn’t keep up with in 2017, as family calamities and new work commitments ate into my time. With writing such an ingrained part of my everyday life, however, I discovered that whenever I did find time to write creatively, whether that was a flash, a poem, a vignette, or simply editing a chapter of a novel in progress, I emerged feeling brighter and lighter and a little bit sunnier.

This fuel keeps me going even when I don’t have the chance to spend as much time dreaming up new characters and worlds as I like. Writing sustains me in a way I’ve only gradually come to understand.

2. Submit regularly

A few years before that I set about ensuring I submitted at least four works of creative writing somewhere each month, which I also continue. The challenge is flexible enough not to cause undue stress (some months I submit all four pieces in the same week then forget all about them for the rest of the month; other months I’ll find I’ve submitted eight by day 30), and also ensures that whenever I receive a rejection, part of me breathes a quiet sigh of relief – now I can send that piece off elsewhere to fulfil part of the current month’s quota.

It helps me stay positive, because for every rejection, there’s a healthy handful of tales still out there dreaming big. And when I get an acceptance, it’s a lovely surprise, because by continually sending out creative pieces I’m never quite clear what’s out there, and therefore not too focused on any one thing.

Which brings me to the third resolution.

3. Stay organised

Around the same time I started sending out four and more stories each month, I set up a simple spreadsheet to help me keep track of them all.

This helps my writing in two ways, firstly, by ensuring I know what I’ve sent where and whether they’ve responded, and secondly, by distancing me from the process emotionally.

By transforming all these acts of hope into columns and rows, I save myself from heartache. Each time a email or post out a piece of writing, I enter its name into the spreadsheet along with the details of where I’ve sent it and the date. Then, when it comes back, I colour that row according to the response – one colour for ‘no thanks’, one for ‘no, but positive feedback’ and one for ‘yes please!’

It all provides an immense sense of productivity, without too much effort at all, which in turn helps me stay motivated. And I’m happy to say that over the years the colour dedicated to ‘yes please’ is infiltrating the worksheets more and more.

4. and 5. Finally, pledge simply to celebrate even the smallest literary successes, and relish the pleasure of writing for its own sake. Lovely.

What works for you?

Here’s to a creative, fulfilling 2023, whatever that means to you xxx

Writing prompt – span

Old Wye Bridge. Photo by Judy Darley

For many people, the days between Christmas and New Year are a kind of in-between, limbo-time. We’ve left behind the glitter of the festive season, but have yet to embark on the adventures that 2023 promises.

Could this be an opportunity to halt, take stock and plan how to move forwards with whatever hopes you hold for the future? Picture it as a bridge spanning two countries, like this glorious 18th-century iron and steel confection stretching over the River Wye to unite Chepstow in Monmouthshire, Wales and Tutshill in Gloucestershire, England.

Can you give a fictional character a dilemma that they must attempt to solve by crossing a bridge like this one?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please send it in an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com for possible publication on SkyLightRain.com.

Enter The Masters Review chapbook contest

Arnos Vale in the morning frost_by Judy Darley
The Masters Review is inviting submissions to their chapbook contest for emerging writers. The type of submission is up to you (they actually mention flash collections, mini novellas, 40-page short stories, braided essays, eclectic brainchildren and experiments…), providing it is original, between 25 and 45 double-spaced pages, and is not poetry.

The deadline for entries is 31st December 2022 at midnight PT.

The winning writer will receive $3,000, digital and print manuscript publication, and 75 contributor copies.

Kim Fu, author of Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century, will choose this year’s winner.

Last year’s winning book, Love at the End of the World by Lindy Biller, selected by Matt Bell, will be published next spring.

The Masters Review say: “We’re seeking to celebrate bold, original voices within a single, cohesive manuscript of 25 to 45 pages. We’re interested in collections of short fiction, essays, flash fiction, novellas/novelettes, longform fiction or essays, and any combination thereof, provided the manuscripts are complete (no excerpts, chapters, works-in-progress, or other incomplete work). We are NOT interested in poetry. (We’re sure your poetry is fantastic, but we’re not qualified to judge its merit!).”

Find full details heremastersreview.com/chapbook-contest/ 

Got an event, challenge, competition, new venture or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send me an email at judydarley (at) iCloud (dot) com.

Writing prompt – If you find…

If you find me, open me. White envelope in shrub.Strolling through a local park one frosty afternoon, a flash of white caught my eye. An envelope tucked into the crook of this shrub entreated: ‘If you find me, open me.’

How could I resist? Of course, I picked up the envelope, opened it up and found inside…

Well, that’s for you to imagine! What was in it? I can tell you this much, it was more than a Christmas card.

Use this as the prompt for a festive short story.

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please send it in an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com for possible publication on SkyLightRain.com.

Join a different kind of book club

NSCRC children with Book Aid boxI love giving books as Christmas gifts – there’s always that sense of offering up a whole world for your recipient to discover!

This year, why not go a little further and offer that gift to a young stranger who needs the light of fiction in their lives?

This Christmas, BookTrust will give 16,000 book parcels to children aged three to thirteen in the England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Book gifts will be sent to children in care and to children via foodbanks and other community organisations helping families facing financial challenges.

If you are donating on behalf of someone, you will be sent a special Christmas gift certificate that you can personalise.

£10 could send a book parcel to a child in care who is spending their first Christmas away from their family.

£50 could light up Christmas for five children who are vulnerable or in care.

£100 could send ten book gifts to a community foodbank for children facing a difficult time this Christmas.

Find out how to donate here.

Book Aid does amazing work to get books to people who need them, and you can help, Your donation will cover the cost of sending books to classrooms and libraries in the developing world to reach the minds hungry for all those page-bound possibilities, adventures and experiences.

How does it work?

You have the option of signing up for a monthly subscription of £6, £10 or £25, or donating the amount of your choice. You could also give in memory of a loved oneleave a gift in your will, or give in celebration. If you’re a publisher or other member of the book trade, you could even donate books.

Over the course of a year, a £6 monthly membership translates into 36 books to stock a community library, reaching children and adults who might otherwise not have the opportunity to enjoy reading for pleasure or learning.

A £10 monthly membership could result in a hospital receiving 60 books.

A £25 membership could provide a starter library for a school, equipped with around 150 books.

Find out how you can help Book Aid change lives for the better.

Enter Skylark Soaring Stories Competition

Climbing by Judy DarleySkylark Literary Agency are inviting unaccented, unpublished writers with a manuscript in progress for middle-grade readers or YA readers to enter their ‘Soaring Stories’ competition.

The deadline is midnight UK-time on Christmas Eve, 24th December 2022.

Entries must comprise a one-page synopsis and the first three chapters or 4,000 words of your novel (whichever is shorter) submitted by email as attached Word or pdf documents. The ‘subject’ of your email should read ‘Competition: [insert title of your novel] by [insert your author name]’.

You must include the anticipated word-count of the full novel, and clearly state whether the story is intended for middle-grade readers or young adult readers.

Skylark have enlisted the help of top editors from some of the biggest and best UK publishers to help find their winners.

Joanna and Amber of Skylark Literary say: “We always aim to seek and support the best writing for young people, and this competition is specifically for new stories aimed at either middle-grade (8-12-years) or YA readers (ages 13+). If you are an un-agented, unpublished writer, working on a jewel of a manuscript for either of these age groups, now is your time to shine!”

They add: “We know it can be daunting to send your work to an agency and then wait to hear what they think, but please be brave! Our competition is designed for new writers who are just finding their way. We’re looking for real, raw talent – so if you’re a writer from an under-represented group and publishing feels like a strange and baffling beast, or if you’re just shy about sending your manuscript out into the big, wide world then why not start here? It’s a golden opportunity to get your work in front of top-notch industry professionals and we’ll read with kindness, we promise!:

The Judges

The competition judges are:

Ben Horslen, Fiction Publisher, Penguin Random House Children’s

Amina Youssef, Senior Comm. Editor, Simon & Schuster Children’s Fiction

Tom Bonnick, Editorial Director, HarperCollins Children’s Books

These three champions of great new writing for children will form the judging panel, together with Joanna and Amber of Skylark Literary.

The Prize

The prize will be a one-hour one-to-one editorial critique of your finished manuscript, by phone or over Zoom, with Joanna or Amber. “We will suggest ways in which you could polish and perfect your novel to improve its chances of representation and publication, and seek to answer any queries you may have about the children’s publishing industry in general.”

This year, Skylark Literary are also offering second- and third-place prizes of a half-hour one-to-one on your submitted chapters and synopsis – so there are more chances than ever to get feedback on your work.

Find the full details plus full terms and conditions here.

Got an event, challenge, competition or call for creative submissions you’d like to draw attention to? Send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud (dot) com.

Writing prompt – epic

Northern Slope jelly fungus and woodlouse, Bristol by Judy DarleyI witnessed this tiny epic adventure taking place on a winter’s day when streams were roaring and the sun shone so fiercely the damp woodland all but fizzed.

A woodlouse raced right up this tree trunk, by-passing a juicy looking jelly fungus (yes, that’s the actual name!), before halting at the top, surveying its surroundings and setting off once more.

What mission could be driving this woodlouse onwards? What dangers does it face, and what rewards might it reach? What characters might it meet on the way?

Why not see what lives in your garden or street and use that as the starting point for a tale worthy of Tolkien’s Middle-earth?

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please send it in an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com for possible publication on SkyLightRain.com.

Writing on Water workshop

Writing on Water. Photo of Bristol's Lightship.
*Postponed*

I’m excited to let you know that I’m teaming up with brilliant poet Helen Sheppard again to teach our on-ship workshop Writing on Water. To brighten up the dark first month of the year, it will take place from 10am-4pm on Saturday 21st January.

Don’t forget, writing workshops make great Christmas presents for creative friends!

How do you write about water? Does it trickle? Surge? Roar?

Is it hungry? Foreboding? Volatile? Reflective? Tranquil?

Whether you write about a raindrop or an ocean, you can harness water as a powerful writing muse.

Taking place on an atmospheric, historic ship moored in John Sebastian Quay, this workshop encourages you to draw inspiration from the setting alongside creative exercises designed to help you find original, meaningful ways to use water in your writing, including a harbourside stroll (less than a mile in total) with prompts to engage each of your senses.

Tea, coffee and snacks (including homemade cake!) will be provided. The group is being kept deliberately small with time for lunch and sharing your writing.

Join us for a voyage of discovery as we explore different ways of using water to shine up themes in our writing, with generative exercises, examples, time to write and opportunities to share your words.

Why write about water?

I’ve been drawn to this mercurial, enigmatic element throughout my writing career, opening my debut short story collection Remember Me To The Bees with a story titled ‘Never seen the Sea’.

Fiction, non-fiction and poetry can all swim into watery themes, whether that’s to add atmosphere, provide a setting or build an evocative metaphor.

As a taster, here’s a splash from ‘Never seen the Sea’ from my short story collection Remember Me to the Bees:

A triangle of blue sharper and brighter than the sky – that was the first of it. Then a tang in her throat like the savoury suck of a chip dipped in salt and vinegar. As she got closer, other sensations rang through her: a crack and crash like a glass falling and rolling and splintering again and again in a bathroom washbasin; a deep breath in, gasp out shuddering through the shore; the freshness of rain in the air, bursting against her skin from every direction possible.
And the triangle soared, spread out, transforming into a strip that hurtled all the way to the horizon, meeting the sky with a dazzle that forced her to glance away; a size too vast to comprehend; bigger than the confines of her mind could contain. But more than that was the endless movement, less like one vast thing than a mass of smaller things, heaving, jostling, vying for the surface yet never quite breaking through.

Who will be teaching you?

Judy Darley photo credit Jo Mary Bulter Photography_cropJudy Darley is a fiction writer, journalist and occasional poet from Bristol. Her fiction has been described as ‘shimmeringly strange’, possibly because she can’t stop writing about the infinite fallibilities of the human mind. Judy’s words have been published and performed on BBC radio and harbour walls, as well as in bookshops, museums, cafés, caves, pubs, a disused church and an artist’s studio. Judy is the author of three fiction collections: The Stairs Are a Snowcapped Mountain (Reflex Press), Sky Light Rain (Valley Press) and Remember Me To The Bees (Tangent Books). Find Judy at SkyLightRain.com and on Twitter as @JudyDarley.

Helen Sheppard_cropHelen Sheppard is a Bristol-based writer and worked as a midwife. Her poetry explores themes of birth, health loss, and those whose voices are often unheard. Helen has performed her poetry at Milk Poetry, RTB, Torriano Meeting House and Harvard Medical School. Helen’s work has been published widely, including These are the Hands and Under the Radar magazine. Her debut poetry collection Fontanelle was published in 2021 by Burning Eye Books. Helen interviews extraordinary poets for her podcast Health Beat Poets. Find Helen on Twitter as HelenSheppard7 and on Instagram as helensheppard58.

Writing prompt – circles

Circle by Judy Darley

I once went on an inspiration-gathering walk with the poet Holly Corfield Carr and she asked me to photograph or note down any objects I saw that were circular. It was a shape-specific scavenger hunt! We were near the harbour, so I ended up making notes of mooring bollards, lengths of rope and even coconuts. Then we turned these images into a collaborative piece of writing about time as a circular object, bringing us back to ourselves.

Recently, in a similar area, I spotted the above and couldn’t resist snapping a photo. To me it looks like a winter moon within a circle of hazy cloud.

This week I invite you to take a stroll. Before you set out, choose a particular shape to look out for – circles, squares, triangles… See what creative symbolism you can draw from the objects that make your list, or what stories these disparate items with only their shape in common can inspire.

If you write or create something prompted by this idea, please send it in an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com for possible publication on SkyLightRain.com.

Kirsty Logan urges you to embrace writing unusual structures

Pebble man by Judy DarleyWriters & Artists has announced that brilliantly eccentric author Kirsty Logan will be providing a writing weekender dedicated to ‘Writing Unusual Structures’. Kirsty is known for her love of writing weird (read her three top tips on writing weird here). Taking place on Saturday 10th to Sunday 11th December from 10.00am-1.30pm UK time, the course costs £95 and promises the chance to explore approaches to unusual structures and embed in your own work through writing exercises.

It sounds ideal for any writer who feels their WIP is “somewhat out of kilter with those you’d typically associate with a particular genre”, and needs reminding that this could be a very positive thing!

They say: “What do we mean by unusual structures? To give you an idea, Kirsty’s own writing has included a story in the form of an auction catalogue, a questionnaire (only the questions, not the answers), a list of items bought in a shop, entirely in footnotes, a series of monologues, told in reverse chronological order, and containing no words.”

Kirsty Logan’s latest book is Things We Say in the Dark. She is the author of three short story collections (including the fabulously weird The Rental Heart & Other Fairytales, two novels (and two more scheduled for publication), two flash fiction chapbooks, a short memoir, and several collaborative works with musicians and visual artists.

Kirsty’s writing has been optioned for TV, adapted for stage, recorded for radio and podcasts, exhibited in galleries and distributed from a vintage Wurlitzer cigarette machine. Her next publication is an original audio novel with a full cast and sound design for Audible, The Sound at the End. When asked what sort of things she writes, she can never give a straight answer.

Through a combination of practical advice, discussion, and writing exercises, Kirsty will show you how to create characters, structures, and settings that hop beyond the familiar and relish not fitting neatly into classification.

Over the weekend you will discover new writers, discuss their work, and embed their approaches to unusual structures into your own work through regular writing exercises.

Kirsty will also offer more general guidance on story, including how to ensure your narrative and your characters don’t get lost in a structure, but find one that expands them. By the end of the course you will have a better understanding of ways to experiment with how you are telling your story and find the best structural fit for it, however unexpected it might be.

Weekender Benefits:

– 6 hours of expert tutoring and advice from Kirsty

– Practical sessions with hands-on exercises to support your writing development

– Course materials available to view ahead of each session, plus catch-up audio recordings

– Access to your course writing community beyond the weekend itself

Book your space here: https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/events-and-courses/writing-unusual-structures-weekender 

Got an event, challenge, competition, opportunity or call for submissions you’d like to draw attention to? Send me an email at JudyDarley (@) ICloud (dot) com.